Imphal: Chongkham Sanjit, 22, left the banned People's Liberation Army a year ago to lead a normal life. It was not to be, not in Manipur.
On July 23, Manipur Police commandos allegedly dragged Sanjit inside a pharmacy in a market in Imphal. Some 500 metres away, Rabina Devi, who was seven months pregnant, was found shot dead.
Police claimed Sanjit had killed Rabina. Police alleged a 9-mm gun was found on Sanjit, but they didn’t explain if Sanjit's fingerprints were found on the pistol. The two bodies were never sent for forensic examination.
Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh issued a statement praising the commandos for killing Sanjit, who was accused of being a member of the banned Peoples' Liberation Army. The Opposition swallowed the claim, but not people in Imphal.
Rabina’s two-year-old son Russell was with her when she was killed. People at Imphal's Ima market knew Rabina well and they suspect she was murdered by the commandos.
Manipur has been under curfew since July 23, with intermittent spells of ease on restrictions. Every week there is a battle on the streets between heavily armed commandos and protestors.
There were as many as 96 civilian deaths in encounters in Manipur in 2006. As many as 30 civilians were killed in 2007 and 136 in 2008. Human rights groups allege most encounters were staged, but the police claim they are being unfairly targeted while fighting militants.
"It is not right for human rights (groups) to make a parallel enquiry. You can't have that sort of things," says Y Joykumar Singh, Director General of Police, Manipur.
Fake encounters, true tales
Meena Devi alleges her son, Longjam Uttamkumar, pleaded for his life and ran from house to house before being killed by Manipur Police commandos on March 29, 2008.
Longjam was a sales executive with Modi Xerox, but police allege he was also a member of the Peoples' Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak. A revolver and Rs 1.5 lakh was allegedly recovered from him after his death.
Police refused to register his family’s complaint. The National Human Rights Commission asked for a magisterial probe into his death but that never happened. To date, Longjam's family has not seen his autopsy report.
Sujata, Uttamkumar's wife, says she wants to avenge her husband’s death. "Whenever I see commandos, I want to take revenge. I am filled with anger and hatred," she says.
Pebam Gunindro Singh and his friend Satish were picked up by police commandos while returning from the Central Jail in Sajiwa on May 16, 2009 to meet Satish’s brother. Gunindro was stripped, beaten up and asked to admit he belonged to the Peoples' Liberation Army. He relented and was released. Satish was killed.
Security forces allege Satish was a militant and was trained at militant camps in Myanmar and Bangladesh. His family insists he was studying at Kumaon University at the time.
Satish's father, former MLA Loitongbam Sarat, is now is trying to unite the Extra Judicial Victims Family Members, a group comprising victims of alleged fake encounters. “His Excellency, the Governor, himself told me that a departmental enquiry (into Satish's death) is of no use. I realized the meaning,” says Sarat.
A history of violence
Manipur has seen decades of armed conflict between security forces and insurgent groups. Security forces were given sweeping powers in 1980 when the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was applied to the state.
These powers include the right to shoot on suspicion and protection from prosecution. No legal action can be initiated against security forces without sanction from the Union Government.
Ironically, the Indian state does not recognize that there is an 'armed conflict' in Manipur. The Government says Manipur has “a serious internal disturbance” that justifies the Army’s presence in the state.
Irom Sharmila, Manipur’s ‘Iron Lady’, sees no justice in AFSPA. She has been on a hunger strike for eight years against the security law or eight years. She is under arrest at an hospital in Imphal on charges of attempted suicide. She is force fed daily, released every year and re-arrested as she refuses to break her hunger strike.
The cycle goes on and rarely does the rest of India notice Irom and the civil society’s peaceful protests against the security forces in Manipur.
The Apunba Lup is a collective of civil society groups that came together after the infamous rape and murder of Manorama Devi in 2004. The paramilitary Assam Rifles claimed she was a member of the Peoples Liberation Army. Her body was later found with clear signs of torture and rape.
India was shocked when 12 elderly women went naked and protest in front of Imphal's Kangla fort to protest against Manoroma’s death. Manorama’s death and the naked protest was news days for some days and then the national focus died down.
“Between 2004 and 2009 more has happened. The violence has become more intense and it is also both ways, the violence. It's not the state doing it. You also have the non-state. People are extremely disillusioned with either side," says Pradeep Phanjoubam, editor of Imphal Free Press.
Historian Professor Lokendra Arambam headed the Apunba Lup in 2004. He was Chief Minister Ibobi Singh's teacher years ago, but realises connection in high places doesn’t bring change in the ground.
"I am to live with it. I am to suffer it. I am to experience that tragedy," says Professor Arambam.